The caterpillar of the rare pink underwing moth has a very peculiar defense mechanism. When disturbed, it suddenly arches its back, revealing a pair of large, scary eyes and what looks like two rows of barred teeth.
The pink underwing moth is a rare and enigmatic insect that originated in subtropical New South Wales via Queensland and New Guinea. It feeds on rotting fruit and, although nocturnal, does not appear to be strongly attracted to light. The moth’s name was inspired by the bright pink bars on the hidden hind wings that some experts believe act as a defense mechanism. The theory is that a sudden display of color can startle or surprise a predator long enough to allow the moth to escape. But this defense strategy pales in comparison to the one used by the pink underwing moth in caterpillar form.
When they first hatch, caterpillars have a mild brown color, which helps them blend in better with their surroundings so as not to be spotted by predators. But as it grows, it develops two large dark spots surrounded by bright yellow lines that look like weird giant eyes, as well as two rows of white lines that look like teeth.
Although the pink underwing moth’s markings may look like a creepy skeletal mask, the strange thing is that they are on the back of the caterpillar. While it looks like it’s staring at you with those huge eyes and barred teeth, its head is actually in its stomach. In fact, the skeletal imitation of the caterpillar is only visible when it stretches its skin, which it does by healing the head and body in this way.
The pink underwing moth caterpillar is sometimes referred to as the “large head caterpillar”. This refers to the large false head that occurs when the caterpillar takes its defensive stance. It is believed that this illusion helps protect the defenseless caterpillars by making them look more like a threat than a victim.
For more amazing examples of natural camouflage, check out this Asian moth, whose flies feed on two flies naturally printed on their wings, or this moth that looks like a rolled up brown leaf.